On paper, Vladislav Delay’s Anima is daunting. A single 62-minute-long track, originally released in 2001 on the German label Mille Plateaux, it takes its name from one of Carl Jung’s ideas about the unconscious, feminine self buried under mens’ outward, socially enforced identity (the gender-inverted version is Animus). Performed live in several takes with a minimum of overdubbing and post-processing, the track correlates with Wolfgang Voigt’s monumental ambient work as Gas (whose four albums were also originally released on Mille Plateaux and are being reissued by Kompakt this month).
This reissue arrives via Delay’s own Huume Recordings label, with new artwork and a previously unreleased 10-minute mix, a condensed version for those unprepared for the whole immersive experience. But where Gas works with elements of German national character–Zauberberg is named with Thomas Mann’s high-modernist novel in mind–Delay’s psychological subject matter is nonreferential. If Anima is Delay’s exercise in musical self-analysis, the self he’s investigating is never fixed or stable enough to turn into irony, which already makes it stand apart from many current electronic artists.
Only seven years after its initial release, Anima‘s rigor and modernism appear surprisingly remote. And Anima really is a bit of an oddity, even on a label and from an artist who specialize in them. But I’m struck by the contextual, historical differences rather than the generic ones. 2000’s Clicks and Cuts established the label as ground zero for glitch, and even though that aesthetic is purged from Anima, the album surprises because it’s a departure instead from the direction electronic music has taken since. Mille Plateaux wore theory on its sleeve (the label cribbed its name from the second volume of Deleuze and Guattari’s Capitalism and Schizophrenia), which allowed it a certain conceptual ambition. This album is a kind of relic from an unabashedly intellectual period in the underground, released nine months before September 11 unleashed torrents of gooey nostalgia.
At the track’s center are two house-derived, vampy synth chords, slowed down enough to turn their steam into ice. In the intervals between them, Delay sketches out an array of rhythmic tangents with percussion and the occasional vocal sample, then fails to follow through with any of them. The piece never goes in for complete improvisation, but neither does it settle into a groove—the keyboards provide some color, but they’re really just milemarkers for the listener.
In a sense, Anima doesn’t require close listening, and it doesn’t especially reward it: There’s an acknowledged frustration in the music, which is too ambient to focus on and yet not ambient enough to completely recede into its domestic environment. The chords that start as a soothing and stabilizing force tend to swell up with dread as the listener drifts in and out of attention. A hasty bit of percussion appears and disappears from the field in a moment, just long enough to suggest a tangent that then begins to play over in the listener’s mind as they try to nail something down in the constant drift.
At times, this musical parallax is similar to the free-associating lucidity between sleep and waking. The idea that any musician, electronic or otherwise, would manage to musically approximate stream-of-consciousness prose is the best indication of Anima’s particular relevance. Although the desire for big concepts and theory to return to music is itself nostalgic, I’d gladly take pretension over niche-marketed resignation.